Friday, May 21, 2010

Identity Issues

This post is seriously overdue. 
My friends have commented on the previous post and raised pertinent issues. One of the foremost of these  being a displeasure with my interpretation of the Gita. As I had stated earlier, I am not claiming that mine is the definitive interpretation. However, I will not accept it to be wrong. An interpretation cannot be declared right or wrong; the critic can at best ask for a justification or an argument to support one's hypothesis. 
It is generally agreed that Arjuna was advised to do his duty. While I go with that part of the common interpretation, I would like to ask the following questions: 
1. Duty towards whom?
2. Duty for what?
3. Why should I not worry about the result (and in some cases the outcome) of my action?
4. If I do something how can I shrug off the responsibility of the results of my action?
5. Where does my rationality figure in all this?
The last question is the most important one. I am not demeaning faith here. I have immense respect for the faithful. It takes a lot of courage to believe in an abstract concept and to let your faith guide you through life. Also, it takes a lot of courage to hand over your rationality to an abstract concept. Even Arjuna, the Nar of the Nar-Naryana duo and therefore our preceptor, didn't do that. He believed in his hero, a human form whom he could perceive with all his senses. But his descendants outdo him. 
Most of the faithful, follow some interpretation of one or more of our religious texts. Very often they believe or are led to believe that the interpretation they follow is the most authentic one. This leads to fundamentalist thoughts and practices. While the people who identify with the group that is usually recognised as the intelligentsia feel there is not an iota of fundamentalism in them, I believe all of us are confused, for we are straddling between contradictory group identities.  
Take the case of Nirupama Pathak, a member of a professional class that is considered part of the intelligentsia in most societies. Her story is rife with contradictions. Not just the kinds of contradictions that make investigation difficult but also the kinds that make life difficult. The media tells us Nirupama was told by her father that the Sanatan Dharma precedes the Indian Constitution. He was not stating a historical fact. He was revealing the group he identifies with. Dharmendra Pathak was telling his daughter that his identity as a follower of Sanatan Dharma is more important to him than his identity as an Indian. Making such a declaration is not an act of treason in our country; nor is it an instance of disrespect to the constitution. The very same man was spending hard-earned money to help his daughter crack a rigorous set of tests to join the elite group that formulates public policy in our country. This sort of ideological confusion in more a norm than an exception in our country. His daughter was prey to similar confusions. This girl trained to become a journalist at one of India's most competitive journalism schools. She moved from a small town in a backward state of our county to the capital of the country to join a demanding profession. Probably, she set an example for dozens of girls in her town to think of careers. The very same girl addressed her lover in the form that is reserved for husbands in traditional Indian marriages. Her lover, who reminded her that she was a journalist and therefore cannot be coerced into anything, was fully aware of her rights and power as a journalist. Parallely, he seemed to have accepted her formal way of address and thereby endorsed the power imbalance between them. And as we all know, this power imbalance arises from age-old perceptions of gender roles in our society. This young journalist couple, with one of the best training in their field, were mimicking the power-structure that their parents followed; at least in form. Here is an instance of education leading to good careers but not to radical change in personal choices of social practices.
Poor Nirupama lost her life due to her confusions. There are those also who thrive in them and glorify them. The less said of the leaders of the khap panchayat the better. These men are committing atrocities in the name of duty towards their culture. Most of them might not be able to state the religious source for their diktats on the kinds of alliances they will endorse and the kinds they will condemn. They get self-righteous about practising obsolete customs and do not feel the need to give their declarations even a semblance of rationality. The leaders of these khap panchayats wield an immense amount of power under the guise of culture. And once again, the most vulnerable are the women. With their rules, these men efficiently ensure that a woman marries into a village where she has no support; a place where there are no chances of finding a connection with her natal family. With such customs, a bride enters a domain where she cannot find the comfort of familiarity, will have to set out to be amiable and create a support structure. No wonder they cry as they do towards the end of the wedding ceremony. And the few who dare to defy these culture czars are killed. 
And these culture czars of Haryana are very clever. They have declared that tradition is on their side. They now want the law of the land to support them too. And they have roped in a few representatives of the people to speeden their goal. While one would not blink an eye over their getting an Om Prakash Chautala in their team,  Navin Jindal was a total suprise. He stumped his party by identifying with his electorate rather than with his public persona of a progressive, educated, cosmopolitan young man. No wonder they have asked him to explain his group identity. 
So, Mr. Jindal which group do you identify with more? The urbane man or the jat?


Anu said...

Our scriptures are open to interpretation, which are its strength, but unfortunately, these days there are so many fanatics who insist that their and only their version is right, which is what leads to trouble.... as to the issue of khaps, they are not surprising in general, for there are similar things all over the country imposing their rules on those they have any power over..... but what is surprising to me is Naveen Jindal publicly supporting them! It makes me wonder if the new generation will really bring about any change at all! These chaps seem to be as intent on taking care of their vote banks than anything else at all!

bhavani said...

The problem with us is our faith. Can't Nirupama's mother invoke Bhagawad Gita and say that she did her duty to the society and was preventing the perversion of social order by killing her own daughter? Why is that Harishchandra's willingness to behead his wife as she is a witch or Abraham's willingness to behead his first born to prove his faith seen as heroic? Me thinks man is an animal, albeit a learned one, who can justify anything. Faith, culture, society are all a sham, we should do what we want to do after reading Shakespeare and Eliot.

Sheeba D'Mello said...

Very interesting - perhaps we all have an hierarchy of groups we belong to. When there is a conflict, we move to the group we identify most with.

As for Jindal, perhaps it is less about what he identifies with and more about how he wants to be identified. Perhaps he only belongs to the group of politicians who do what it takes to get the votes.

Anonymous said...

Fancy may kill or cure. ....................................................